Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale is a tender and painful look at the collapse of a family in early-’80s Brooklyn and the damage done to a couple’s children after a divorce. On their debut LP, Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down, British folkies Noah and the Whale attempt for the raw emotion of the film it was named after but sound more like a band desperately trying (and failing) to be profound.
Noah and the Whale signed to Cherrytree this year after a string of singles, including their breakout song, “5 Years Time,” started getting noticed by the electric-guitar-obsessed NME. The rest is history: band gets signed, band records LP, band rockets to semi-fame on the back of a car commercial.
“5 Years Time” is Peaceful’s standout — the very things that made it good for a Saturn pitch earlier this summer make it a sticky, sweet pop song. It’s as twee as the band allows itself to be, and the song’s whistling portion lends itself to Peter Bjorn and John comparisons. Don’t be surprised if this one ends up ubiquitous in Urban Outfitters stores, coffee shops, and dentist offices in the next few months.
The rest of the album fails to varying degrees to be as catchy as “5 Years Time”: the rolling “Rocks and Daggers,” the low-key “Second Lover” (about computer relationships) and the delicate “Mary” come close. However, the band members desperately try to establish themselves in the folk-rock mode of Bob Dylan or Crosby, Stills and Nash, and it becomes increasingly apparent there’s not much to make this “folk” other than acoustic guitars.
Noah and the Whale try their best to make weighty songs (look no further than the paint-by-numbers description of a funeral on the limp “Death by Numbers”), but they’re better as a pop group that digs ukuleles and acoustic guitars. The band has more in common with Juno: a movie that desperately tries to be something it’s not (Oscar material) when it’s really something more standard (a teen movie).